“Merciless Indian Savages”

December 3, 2012

As I stared into the eyes of the “enemy” woman lying at my feet in a Vietnamese farming village, I was stunned to see “my” sister. Her eyelids and much of her facial skin had been burned by napalm. I was in shock. I was 9,000 miles from my home farming village in western New York State, and I was supposedly assessing accuracy of bombings of enemy “targets.” The bombing had occurred within the hour. Guided to the target by an accompanying Vietnamese lieutenant, I was crying and throwing up at seeing the napalm-blackened, shrapnel-riddled woman who had been desperately holding three young children in an obvious attempt to flee the bombing. They were dead as were many others lying closeby. Others were still alive, but just barely. The Vietnamese officer seemed pleased at the scene. To him they were just “communists,” as good as vermin.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me and these villagers. Was I really present or was this a nightmare from which I would soon awake? This just couldn’t be happening, yet I smelled the pungent odors of lingering napalm droplets, chemical residues of exploded bombs, and burning flesh. Yet, it seemed clear that I had just witnessed a US-directed bombing that had targeted and murdered over a hundred members of “my” family.

As I began to register the powerful truth of this epiphany – an intense, visceral experience of irreversible knowledge that we are all one family – it painfully occurred to me that I was on the wrong side. How could it be, that a good kid like me, now 27 years old – supposedly smart, graduate student, popular, athletic, religious, boy scout, from rural New York – was participating in something that now seemed diabolical beyond comprehension?

Could I have done everything so right only to discover it was all wrong? At one point I remembered Thomas Jefferson’s words penned in our Declaration of Independence about “the merciless Indian Savages.” Actually the particular words were decrying King George III’s policies that “endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” Well, here I was, part of a force of nearly 550,000 US military whose “known rule of warfare” was criminally invading and marauding the inhabitants of villages in absurdly extended frontiers 9,000 miles from my farming village in the US, causing the “destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

I now understood a truth that was to become foundational for the rest of my life – I knew who the savages were, and I was one of them, one of the enemy. We had it all wrong from the beginning. God damn it! Fuck!

I had fallen into the culturally conditioned trap of seeing evil only outside myself, outside our cultural self, when in fact there was plenty of evil within awaiting courageous embracing as a necessary foundation for our and my radical healing. Our nation was born in shame through violent dispossession of millions of others – “savages” our Eurocentric ancestors called them – and that original crime has yet to be addressed. Until we do, we will remain savages, continually projecting our darkness on vulnerable others, what psychologist Carl Jung described as our “shadow” that we choose to project onto others rather than mustering the courage to acknowledge and address them directly.

NOTE: The US projection pattern is well established in the empirical historical record. Since 1798, the military forces of the Republic of the Untied States have overtly invaded well over 560 times in more than 100 countries, and since World War II, the US has covertly intervened thousands of times while bombing 28 countries. By 1930, US presidents had sent military gunboats into Latin American countries – our Banana Republics – over 6,000 times. We as a nation have found, and continue to find, evil needing to be checked or eradicated virtually everywhere.


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    “Merciless Indian Savages” | S. Brian Willson

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